A science career in materials could mean anything since materials are important in all consumer products and all manufacturing. Jobs in electrical, mechanical, environmental, chemical, and civil engineering require an understanding of materials. Materials themselves include ceramics, polymers, composites, bio-materials, and electronic materials. A career in materials physics would involve synthesizing the different physical sciences: chemistry, continuum physics, and condensed matter physics. Most jobs in condensed matter physics are in solid-state physics and most jobs in continuum physics are in solid mechanics.
The American Physical Society (APS) has 14 separate units, with their own websites. Jobs in materials physics and condensed matter physics are found in separate divisions. A career in materials physics would involve applying condensed matter concepts to complex and multiphase media. Jobs in materials physics are really jobs in condensed matter physics applied to materials that are of interest to manufactures.
If you want a career in pure quantum mechanics, the study of magnetic materials is for you. Magnetism is caused by the spin and the detailed quantum state of electrons in solids and has no classical counterpart and has many potential applications. There are career opportunities created by tunneling magnetoresistance, nanostructured single domain materials, the need of high-density data storage, and progress in MRI diagnostics.
There are fundamental problems and job opportunities in the study of hydrogen because the presence of hydrogen modifies the properties of materials and because of the need of lightweight materials for hydrogen storage. Hydrogen is relevant for the creation of high vacuums because it is used for the outgassing of materials.
Careers in soft matter involves studying physical states that are easily deformed such as liquid crystals, colloids, polymers, foams, gels, granular materials, and biological membranes. Research jobs in this area will tackle the unpredictable behaviors of soft matter, which arise because soft matter self-organizes itself into physical structures that are larger than an arrangement of atoms and molecules, but smaller than the overall scale of the material. There are many jobs for physicists studying packaging materials, foams and adhesives, detergents and cosmetics, paints, food additives, lubricants, and fuel additives. A career in soft matter research is for someone who prefers classical physics to quantum physics and is interested in physical chemistry and complex systems analysis.
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